It might be hard to believe, but Americans have within themselves all of the emotional equipment needed to understand suicide bombers. What is required is shock, rage, and an irrational desire for revenge that goes so deep that it ceases to be picky about what the targets for that revenge actually are. Such feelings can then be manipulated into support for bombing innocents.
Shock and rage were natural human reactions to the calamity of 9/11 2001. What other reaction was possible, when entire buildings full of people were leveled, when thousands of innocents were killed? Nor was it only the families or friends of those who died, but people all over the United States and all over the world, who felt these things.
Americans can therefore understand how Arabs and Muslims all over the world feel when they see the ongoing destruction of the West Bank and Gaza: missile attacks against crowded apartment buildings that kill 14 innocents and a single â€˜suspectâ€™ in Gaza City in July 2002; a leveling of entire neighbourhoods in a refugee camp to â€˜root out suspected terroristsâ€™ in Jenin in April 2002.
Americans can also understand how Arabs and Muslims all over the world feel when they see footage and hear about the deaths due to destroyed infrastructure and sanctions against Iraq that have hundreds of thousands of people. Americans are capable of understanding what it feels like to wait to be bombed to death, as millions of innocent Afghans did in the months following September 2001, thousands of whom were killed, and as millions of innocent Iraqis are doing today, untold numbers of whom will be killed if the US attacks (one estimate is in the hundreds of thousands:
An irrational desire for revenge is not a healthy feeling, but it is certainly something that Americans are capable of understanding. Just after 9/11, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times both conducted polls that showed vast majorities of respondents supporting military retaliation against Afghanistan even if civilian casualties were involved.
Those polled also said they would support more restrictions on foreign students and other visitors and restricted freedoms for themselves. This suggests that even a majority of Americans are capable of understanding how those who have suffered a devastating military attack might feel an irrational, counterproductive desire to retaliate against innocents.
While it is true that the 9/11 hijackers did not come from Iraq, Palestine, or Afghanistan– three of the countries whose populations have suffered the most from US foreign policy in recent years — the vengeful sentiments expressed in the polls represented feelings all over the United States and not only of those who were directly affected. This is not unlike the way people all over the Middle East must feel about what is happening in Afghanistan, Palestine, or Iraq.
Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz wrote a book called â€˜Why Terrorism Worksâ€™ in which he offers Israel as a model for dealing with terrorists. The US has since done an assassination of an al-Qaeda suspect in Yemen (in November, 2002, see http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=40&ItemID=2592) a manner not unlike Israelâ€™s assassinations against suspected members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad in Palestine. Amnesty International said about this assassination: â€œif this was the deliberate killing of suspects in lieu of arrest, in circumstances in which they did not pose an immediate threat, the killings would be extra-judicial executions in violation of international human rights law.”
It seems that the US has taken Dershowitzâ€™s advice. If this is true, and the US wants to be Israel and turn the whole Middle East into its West Bank and Gaza, Americans should also listen to Yitzhak Frankenthal, an Israeli who lost his son in a Palestinian attack. Frankenthal said: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22&ItemID=2173
â€œIf to hit his killers, innocent Palestinian children and other civilians would have to be killed, I would ask the security forces to wait for another opportunity. If the security forces were to kill innocent Palestinians as well, I would tell them they were no better than my sonâ€™s killers.â€
Frankenthal also shows that he, like Americans, is capable of understanding the feelings of a suicide bomber: â€œHad I myself been born into the political and ethical chaos that is the Palestiniansâ€™ daily reality, I would certainly have tried to kill and hurt the occupier; had I not, I would have betrayed my essence as a free manâ€¦ I can say for myself that I, Yitzhak Frankenthal, would have undoubtedly become a freedom fighter and would have killed as many on the other side as I possibly could.â€
The last piece of the puzzle Americans need in order to understand suicide bombers is how these feelings of rage and vengefulness can be manipulated. Christopher Hitchens understands this.
In his essay, â€˜Against Rationalizationâ€™ he writes of al-Qaeda that â€œthe people who leveled the World Trade Center are the same people who threw acid in the faces of unveiled women in Kabul and Karachi, who maimed and eviscerated two of the translators of The Satanic Verses. . . what they have in mind [is] a bleak and sterile theocracy enforced by advanced techniques.â€
That is, those who mastermind and lead the terrorist attacks are not those who feel the rage and vengefulness the most. They are instead those who want to manipulate that rage and vengefulness for their own agenda: in the case of al-Qaeda, to try to further a â€˜bleak and sterile theocracyâ€™.
That Hitchens can understand this about al-Qaeda means that he must also be capable of understanding it about the US government. If people in the US are still feeling vengeful over 9/11, 2001, they have no reason to feel vengeful towards Iraq – – Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are bitter enemies, and Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. But the US is planning an attack on Iraq.
It is thus clear that the US is manipulating the feelings of anger and vengefulness felt by Americans to further its desire for war in Iraq, a war that would bring the oil resources of Iraq back under US control and continue the momentum of the â€˜war on terrorâ€™, in just the same way that al-Qaeda manipulates the feelings of anger and vengefulness felt by Arabs and Muslims in order to further its own program.
And, since Israel is to be the model for the US War on Terror, it is worth emphasizing again the road that the US is taking Americans along. The July 23rd Gaza City bombing is a good example. In that attack: â€œan American-made F-16 fighter jet, paid for with American tax dollars granted to Israel, launched a missile at a Gaza City apartment building, with the goal of killing Sheikh Salah Shehada, a leader of Hamas’ military wing.
Fifteen people were killed in the attack, including Shehada and his bodyguard. That thirteen other people were killed is a crime. But that barely scratches the surface. Of those thirteen others killed, nine — NINE — were children. The ages of the children were 15, 11, 6, 5, 4 1/2, 4, 4, 1 1/2 and 2 months.â€ http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22&ItemID=2157
The day before the attack, â€œthe spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, had announced that Hamas would be willing to agree to a cease-fire, including a halt to suicide bombings, in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the areas that had previously been under Palestinian administration under the Oslo agreements.â€
In the words of Mitchell Plitnick from A Jewish Voice for Peace, â€œthe Gaza City bombing was intended to provoke a response, and, as seems always to be the case, some Palestinian armed group was at the ready to dutifully provide Ariel Sharon with just what he wants. On July 31, a member of Hamas left a bomb inside a cafÃ© on the Hebrew University campus. It killed seven people and injured over 80 immediately, and the death tollâ€¦ has risen sinceâ€ http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22&ItemID=2213
Imagine this, multiplied a hundredfold. This is the future that the US â€˜War on Terrorismâ€™, with help from al-Qaeda, promises the whole world. Perhaps the first step in avoiding such a future is admitting that â€œtheyâ€ are not actually all that different from â€œusâ€.